Can a Sheep Stray from the Fold?

No one can “snatch” Christ’s sheep away from him. (Jn. 10:28). But does this mean that a child of God can never fall from grace and be lost eternally?
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

“A friend of mine insists that a Christian can never fall away from the grace of God so as to be lost. One of the Bible verses that she uses in support of this idea is in John’s Gospel, chapter 10, verses 27-28. ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’ [KJV]. Would you comment on this passage?”

The Gospel of John is a very selective piece of literature relative to the events of Jesus’ earthly ministry. John fills in some of the “blanks” that the other Gospel writers purposely leave because of the particular design of their records.

For example, John’s account of the Lord’s visit to Jerusalem at the time of “the feast of the dedication” (Jn. 10:22ff) is unique to his narrative. On that occasion, the Savior uttered these words: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).

There are some extremely important thoughts here that qualify the promise subsequently made.

First, it is clear from the overall context that the term “sheep” is here employed of those who are the Lord’s disciples. They are plainly set in contrast to the hostile Jews who, though they had been exposed to ample information concerning Jesus’ identity, nonetheless did not believe on him, hence, refused to follow him (see Jn. 10:25).

Second, one must take note of how the sheep are precisely described. This is crucial because the character of the sheep emphasizes why they are secure.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

First, the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice.

“Hear” is from akouo signifying a sheep who listens. The word is found fifty-eight times in John’s Gospel. In this context, as with many others, it denotes an obedient listening to Jesus (Thayer, 23).

Too, the verb is in the Greek present tense, which suggests not a spasmodic interest but a sustained determination to do the Lord’s will.

My Sheep Follow Me

Those who hear the shepherd’s voice follow him.

This verb translates a compound term, akoloutheo, which contains the two ideas of “likeness” and “way.” It pictures one who is walking or traveling in the same direction.

In the four Gospel records, the word occurs seventy-seven times. Significantly, seventy-six of these have to do with following Christ!

Again, it is a present tense form. Thus, the meaning is if we may paraphrase: “The one who keeps on listening [obeying] Jesus Christ, will find himself continuing in the same direction as his Shepherd.”

The Sheep Have Free Will

The text does not claim that the sheep have no volition, no power of choice. Clearly, they do. They voluntarily hear and follow.

Accordingly, if they continue in this course of sustained fidelity, no one will be able to “pluck” or “snatch” (ASV) them from the Lord’s hand.

The term “snatch” is from the Greek harpazo, which carries the idea of “to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control” (Danker, 134). It is used here in the sense of taking someone captive by force (cf. Jn. 6:15; Acts 23:10).

Can anyone force the child of God to abandon his Savior? The answer is, “No.”

But can the Christian voluntarily surrender his own faith and forfeit his hope of eternal life? He certainly can, and there is ample Bible evidence establishing this sad reality.

See also: Take Heed Lest You Fall.

  • Danker, F. W., et al., 2000. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Chicago: University of Chicago.
  • Thayer, J. H. 1958. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.